Why banks aren't offering four day weeks

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According to an article in yesterday's Financial Times, flexibility has proven a very welcome alternative to redundancy at KPMG.

In January, all 11,400 staff at KPMG UK were asked to volunteer for four day weeks or for 12 week sabbaticals on a third of pay. In an impressive display of enthusiasm, 85% put themselves forward. Only 750 were given the go-ahead.

Given the evident popularity of working less, why haven't banks made similar offers to the thousands of staff they've let go?

The head of HR at one US bank says flexibility has been discussed at length.

"We've looked at letting people take August off, giving them one to three months to travel, or allowing them to work a four day week or a nine day fortnight," he says.

Until now, he says there are three main reasons why flexible working hasn't been on offer -

1.) Flexibility can be a byword for a pay cut - if people are working so hard that they can't really cut their hours, you're better off telling them straight that salaries are being reduced by 20%.

2.) Traders and investment bankers can't really work flexibly anway.

3.) As an alternative, it has been possible to cut bonuses or remove mediocre performers.

However, flexible options may yet come into play if further cost cutting is required later this year.

"Say we have another blip in the markets in September or October and there's a need to reduce spending," says the head of HR. "If it then looks like we've bottomed out and things will subsequently get better, it will make sense to cut staff on a temporary basis only."

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